You have probably noticed a lack of posts in the last few months. The reasons are many, but primarily I was not sure what direction to take this blog or even to continue it at all.
I have been honest with all of you the last few years, trying to provide a glimpse into the life of a prosecutor. I pulled back the curtain and let you know the good and the bad. Now, you deserve to know that I have left my job as a prosecutor and am now a private attorney.
I will explain the reasons why, but first I want to provide a little background into my career and how it intersected with this blog. I was a prosecutor for eight and a half years in two very busy metropolitan areas in New York State. For the last three years, I was also a Special Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting gang crimes in both state and federal courts as part of a task force. These duties added to my regular job as a state prosecutor of violent crimes and violent juvenile crimes.
Writing was an outlet for me throughout my life, but I had stopped doing it for about ten years. I wanted to get back into it and share what was really happening in the criminal world. That started the idea for this blog. My boss (surprisingly) agreed to let me do it as long as I did not discuss pending cases and abstained from belittling anyone. The decision to keep it anonymous was mine alone to protect my ability to keep blogging. I felt that if I went public my boss would not like it if a reporter called me for a quote. I think writing became an outlet again for some of the horrible crimes I prosecuted.
My last major case as a prosecutor was the strangulation and sexual abuse of a thirteen year old boy by another thirteen year old boy (The case is still ongoing). This case highlights the difficulties in being a prosecutor and part of the reason I left. You see, the better you get at a job, the more responsibility you receive. For a prosecutor who specializes in violent crime, that means you get the worst defendants and facts.
Three years ago, I met a robbery victim. He was in his mid-twenties and had come into my office with his parents. The suspect, a serial robber, took his cell phone at gun point. The victim, like so many, did not want to cooperate. His parents came with him to support his decision.
I informed him that in a case like this his wishes did not matter. He could either testify or get an attorney when he received the subpoena so the attorney could explain his rights. In a case with one man causing so much havoc in the streets, we couldn't just leave what happens up to one victim who decided not to cooperate without putting the case in the grand jury and forcing the witnesses to testify. A prosecutor protects society and does not have to cave to the wishes of a victim if the greater good requires a prosecution. The witness' father asked me if I liked my job. I spoke honestly. I have learned that you have to listen and be honest in order to relate. I told him it was a difficult job to do. No one ever looked forward to speaking with me. Every time a prosecutor like me contacted the victim it was to have the victim relive the worst moment of his or her life.
The father said, "That's bad. Time for a new job."
It registered with me and stuck in my subconscious the way you remember stories from your childhood that affect your life. At the time, it was just another conversation. But every now and then it would appear in my brain for no reason at all. The breaking point for me came when I was driving to work in May 2014 and heard the news report about a missing thirteen year old boy on the radio. When they found his body and made an arrest of another thirteen year old, I knew I would get the call as the violent crimes juvenile prosecutor. I met with the victim's family. Victim? He was a boy. I met with the boy's family the day before the felony hearing. I went with a good friend, the murder victim advocate. The family needed to meet us and hear the truth from us before they heard it in court the next day. There are some things you can't unknow, some things you can't unremember. I will never forget the murdered boy. I will never forget the conversation with his family about what happened to him. I will never forget the pictures of the boy's body.
This is not to say that there was only one case that caused me to look for other work. I had been toying with the thought for months. The inability to stay in one job forever might be a problem with my generation, or it might be a gift. There is so much else I wanted to do with the law outside of prosecution. Working for the government limits the opportunities because I was a public servant. I've always loved business and finance too. I have always wanted to start a business. I always wanted to write more. I thought, 'maybe I should try something before it's too late.'
I faced a crisis of what I wanted. I had accomplished so much in my career already - state and federal prosecutor, experienced trial attorney, experienced investigator. My greatest accomplishment was taking what started out as a a set of phone records and building that into an indictment of a four month long robbery spree by five teenagers that ended in the murder of a cab driver. I had worked so hard and so long on that case that I could still give the closing argument today. That case was part of the problem though. It is a tremendous accomplishment and that month long trial with over 60 witnesses might never get replicated in my county again. But I looked at what it took to obtain an accomplishment - someone had to die. In that case, we were scheduled to present the first set of robberies to a grand jury in March. The defendants, who had made bail, committed the murder nine days before we were set to indict them.
You can probably see that the cases take a toll on me. I am not the type of person who can leave it all at the office.
There are failures, but there are so many successes. I obtained convictions for numerous violent criminals, even in the face of adversity like a lack of cooperation from witnesses. Serial robbers, rapists, burglars, murderers, and would be shooters who carried guns were convicted. I am confident that I helped to save lives. I was successful because I cared so much. The successes aren't just convictions either. A large part of my caseload was dismissing cases that did not have enough evidence or where the police performed an illegal search. I hope I exonerated the innocent as much as I convicted the guilty. A professional prosecutor is the first guard against a wrongful conviction.
Another of the success at the time? I helped convict a 16 year old of murder in my first trial when I switched offices. Three witnesses identified him, including the murder victim's girlfriend. The girlfriend sat on the witness stand and yelled at the defendant, asking him why he killed her man. I wiped tears away, the judge wiped tears away, and jurors wiped tears away. The emotion in the courtroom hung like fog on everyone inside of it. After hours of deliberation, the jury convicted based on the eyewitness testimony.
As it turns out, the defendant was innocent. The case was truly a failure. The defendant was convicted even though the police, prosecutors, judge, and defense attorney did everything right. He is out now, but that still sits with me. A defense attorney never gave up on his client and we agreed to dismiss the case when the exoneration evidence came out almost four years later.
As the cases and memories piled up, I asked myself did I want to do this forever? Was there something else out there? I owed it to myself to look. I owed it to myself to make sure whatever decision I made was right for me and my family. There was a point where I was going to become a career prosecutor if I stayed much longer no matter if I wanted it or not.
I found a job that fit at the end of 2014 and started it in 2015. I am now a civil litigator, which is about as far as you can get from criminal prosecution. It was what I wanted. It was what I needed.
Prosecution has taught me values and ethics. It has shown me how to work hard and how to investigate before making a decision. I learned how to listen when everyone else wanted to talk at the person. I learned how to work with the poorest and dirtiest person and how to work with the wealthiest. It surrounded me with people that I love and will be friends with forever. It made me laugh every day. There was never a day I dreaded going to work because of the people I worked with. Making a decision to leave felt like ending a long-term relationship. Sometimes you know it is not working out anymore, but ending it meant you were breaking up with the family too.
The one hang-up, the one thing that almost caused me to stay was the thirteen year old victim. Even as I write this I am tearing up. Did I owe it to him to stay? To his family? I built up so much trust with them and had given that case everything. Should I see it through to trial even though there would be no way I could get through it without becoming an emotional wreak? Maybe I had become too attached, too invested in some of these cases. It was not every case, but there was always one or two that really meant more than just a name on a file. Before I made the decision to leave, I checked my ego. There were plenty of amazing prosecutors who would handle the case just as well, if not better, than me.
This blog's readers have made this so much fun. During the first few months of doing this, about eight people a month would read this blog. I don't know what happened, but over the last two years 10,000 people a month come to check it out. I think that's pretty decent for not doing any marketing. Apparently, people wanted to listen to what I had to say. I like to think it was because I was honest. I tried to help. I wasn't doing this because I had something to sell or was trying to get you to hire me. I wanted you to know what life was really like for a prosecutor.
I am still conflicted about what to do with this blog. I love doing it. I love the comments and the emails. So many of you reach out for help in your career or even on whether to go to law school. So many of you have written back to tell me about your success in getting DA jobs or even avoiding DA jobs because you realized it was not the right fit. I will continue the blog and now can be more open about criminal cases and DA life. To be honest, I have no idea what will happen with it over time. Maybe it will morph into something else. Maybe I will write more and tell you about it. Maybe I will not. Who knows? Public service is still a large part of what drives me. Maybe doing this will be part of that?
Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. Please come back as I open up on more stories about cases I've handled or issues that continue to come up. I would not trade my life as a DA for anything. At its core, it was about helping people. I am proud and honored to say I helped people who needed it the most.